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‘Money mules’ hit by international police crackdown

International police have arrested 1,800 suspects in a major operation targeting “money mules” who help launder the proceeds from online scams, the European Union’s police agency said Wednesday.

The crackdown prevented losses of 67.5 million euros ($75.8 million) and identified more than 18,000 “mules” who transfer illegally acquired funds on behalf of criminal gangs, Europol said.

The operation involved 27 countries including Australia, Britain, Colombia, the United States and many EU countries, along with banks, foreign exchange firms and tech firms.

“It is the largest international operation of its kind,” the Hague-based Europol said in a statement.

“Money mules were being used to launder money for a wide array of online scams” including “phishing” attacks to hack people’s emails accounts and foreign currency fraud, it said.

Criminal gangs often used vulnerable people to “unknowingly” move ill-gotten gains from the internet scams under the radar of international financial laws.

“The organised crime groups do this by preying on groups such as students, immigrants, and those in economic distress, offering easy money through legitimate-looking job adverts and social media posts,” Europol said.

The three-month operation from September to November involved some 400 banks and financial institutions reporting some 7,000 suspicious transactions to international police from Europol and its global sister organisation Interpol.

Law enforcement also worked together with private companies including Western Union, Microsoft and Fourthline, Europol said.

Police used that information to start more than 2,500 investigations and identify 324 money mule recruiters.

The operation, the seventh of its kind since 2016, was also aimed at “shedding more light on the size and nature of criminal economies that money mules serve”, it said.


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